Some Las Vegas personal injury attorneys and chiropractors might be a little nervous now that a man has pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to disclose the personal health information of trauma patients at University Medical Center.
Richard Charette, 55, pleaded guilty to the charge Tuesday in front of U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson, who told the former longtime hospital volunteer he faces a maximum term of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced May 4.
Charette ran a company called Accident Trial Lawyers, though there is no record of his holding a law license or practicing law.
In court he admitted that he paid a UMC supervisor, described as the hospital’s trauma resuscitation department manager, $9,200 from July through November 2009 for 55 patient record face sheets.
Charette said he used the information to solicit clients and patients on behalf of Las Vegas personal injury lawyers and chiropractors. Obtaining such personal identifying and medical information violates the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The FBI was tipped to the scam by an unidentified chiropractor. Indicted by a federal grand jury in April, Charette pleaded guilty without taking a plea deal one week before he was to stand trial. While no doctors or lawyers have been identified in the criminal investigation, members of both professions are listed in two related civil lawsuits.
Charette in court identified his UMC supervisor as David Tapovich. Assistant U.S. Attorney Crane Pomerantz declined even to spell Tapovich’s name and offered an emphatic “no comment” when asked whether Charette has agreed to identify conspirators.
A staffer who answered the phone at UMC’s trauma services offices Tuesday said David Tapovich no longer works there.
Attempts to get comment from Charette’s attorney, Benjamin Durham, were unsuccessful. In April, Brian Brannman, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said he hoped the “full weight of the law” came down on Charette and any conspirators.
The State Bar of Nevada is conducting a parallel investigation of Charette’s schemes because paying nonlawyers for referrals is a significant breach of attorney ethics.
Las Vegas attorneys Andrew Taylor and Dennis Ramsey, who in December were named in a lawsuit filed by Allstate, reportedly are under State Bar investigation. Neither returned telephone calls seeking comment.
Also named in that and another lawsuit are three doctors, Arthur Rossi, Sebastian Balle and Peter Balle, who practiced at Balle’s Accident Injury Medical Center, 2619 W. Charleston Blvd. An answering service Tuesday said the office is now closed.
Allstate alleges a “uniquely configured relationship” involved the parties mutually referring patients to each other with the chiropractors performing “unnecessary” treatment and sending Allstate “unreasonable” bills, which would allow the attorneys to “negotiate artificially enhanced settlements.”
Allstate accuses the defendants of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act; conspiracy to violate RICO; fraud and intentional misrepresentation; conspiracy to defraud; of violating Nevada-specific RICO statutes; Innocent Victim Enterprise violations; constructive trust and unjust enrichment; and negligent misrepresentation.
In yet another civil case, a potential class-action lawsuit was filed in July naming Charette and UMC as defendants.
The lawsuit, filed by Henderson attorney Jess Sbaih on behalf of two women who were treated at UMC after auto accidents, seeks to represent any other people who might have been victimized by the alleged scheme between 2007 and 2009.
“I’ve talked to several people,” said Sbaih, “and we’re waiting to be certified for a class action.”
Sbaih said the allegations behind the leak of patient information are “shocking and very disappointing.”
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden hailed the conviction of Charette, who remains free pending sentencing.
“Patients should not have to be concerned that their personal information might be compromised when they visit a hospital or medical provider,” Bogden said, adding that federal authorities vigorously investigate and prosecute such crimes.
Contact Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@review
journal.com or 702-224-5512 or read more courts coverage at lvlegalnews.com.